Today, Magpul takes a deep stride from its polymer lair and enters the stabby, cut-throat world of mid-tech knives. We had a chance to see some photos and speak with three of the key players in the development of Magpul’s premier blade offering, the limited edition Rigger frame lock.
The Rigger is a 4.5-inch closed, 7.5-inch open, titanium framed, frame lock design featuring what Magpul calls a modified wharncliffe style blade made from S35vn steel. The biggest thing to note is the knife’s secondary locking feature. Essentially, rotating this secondary lock lever with a flick of the thumb turns the knife into a fixed blade.
Magpul will produce 200 knives, each serialized in order of production. While the price of the knife hasn’t been announced, we’re told it’s a mid-tech offering which suggests a price tag somewhere in the neighborhood of $300-$400.
“This is really a passion project for Magpul,” says Jake Blick, Magpul’s knife product manager, “it’s years in the making. We’re knife guys. We love knives, and we carry knives and we wanted to see if we could make something that we would all appreciate.”
Blick calls the blade shape a modified wharncliffe, though it looks more like a modified sheepsfoot. “We wanted to take the wharncliffe shape and make it a little bit more stabby,” says Blick, “yet maintain its rigidity and utility, and also give it a slight belly on its cutting-edge, trying to make it even more effective as a tool.”
Dissecting the S35vn blade and edge itself, Magpul calls it a compound grind. The reason for the dual bevel, as the edge is also sometimes called, is to maintain the thickness and thereby, the strength of the blade. It’s clear Magpul did not want the Rigger to be a safe queen.
“The blade is 11/64 inches thick,” says Blick. “It’s a robust blade, the spine is very thick and the initial bevel is pretty steep. It’s not until basically the center of the blade, so it maintains that thickness through more than half of the blade before getting into the initial grind.”
The Rigger is a flipper, and a slim one at that. The decision to forgo thumb slots, posts, or raised surfaces interrupting the blade speaks to the stripped-down design aesthetic Magpul chose to impart on the knife. Instead of levering the blade open with a thumb stud, flick the exposed notch on the back of the frame to open it up.
Other features include black PVD coating on everything except the blade edge, jimping along the blade back, for control while cutting, and jimping on the flipper. It also has a lanyard hole, and of course, a nearly flat pocket clip that matches the knives overall aesthetic very well. While it only carries tip-up, it can swap sides.
The knife weighs just 4 ounces, which is impressive when you consider it’s a full-size folder. With a working length of 7.59 inches and a handle thickness of 7/16-inch, it’s not svelte, but it sure looks like it is.
The overall length a little over 7.5 inches open, around 4.5 inches closed. Blade length is right under 3.5 inches. On paper, it seems like it’s ideally sized for EDC.
The frame and blade are PVD coated, with a heavy matte finish and the frame has a light texture.
As with any folder, there’s a chance the pivot and lock are subject to a little too much torque and slip off the over-center pivot on the edge of the blade. Best case, near miss, worst case, your budding guitar career is over. So Magpul added a rotating cam that places a physical block in place to prevent the frame lock from closing.
Blick says, “This was something that came from looking at the friction points, or things that make us cautious when using a knife. It’s a utilitarian function. It turns a folding knife into something that you can really wrench on and now use as a tool… and that’s what we were going for.”
The secondary locking feature was spawned from Blick’s knife use and having near misses with frame locks. He’s had other knives with 20% engagement between the locking bar and the blade. “I don’t know that I’d want to wrench on it as hard as I would with this thing,” he says. “With this knife, it’s much different. It gives you a warm and fuzzy.”
Blick recalls initial conversations about frame locks and what guys at Magpul wanted was at least 50% lock engagement between the frame and the blade. That 50% engagement area means there’s enough friction and space to generally prevent a blade closing on you.
“So, having this secondary locking feature on the side, it’s practically a fixed blade,” says Blick. “It’s not a pry bar, because it’s a very nice knife, but it’s a real tool if you choose to use it that way.”
“It’s not something you’ve got to hold while using,” says Mike Marise, Magpul requirements manager says about the secondary lock lever. “It’s a push button, or toggle that keeps that frame lock engaged. It’s pretty intuitive.”
Marise says identifying the need and developing the secondary lock aided the calculus when looking at the business case for a Magpul knife. “Solving a problem that’s out there,” says Marise, “just added more weight on top of the passion-project nature of developing this product.”
We asked the knife’s product engineer, Dan Smith, if 50% lock surface engagement is good, isn’t 100% engagement better?
From a technical perspective, he told us, you have two surfaces in contact with each other and over time you’ll get wear. “So you want it to be at 50% initially, or so, and then over time… years and years of use, those two surfaces rub and it’ll drift over to a hundred percent,” he says. “So that’s why you don’t want to start it a hundred percent… because then it’ll start to drift off the edge over time.”
All the talk about this secondary lock begs another question, is the knife safe to use without engaging the secondary lock?
Smith says, “You do see some secondary locks on other knives, but a lot of those are autos that automatically engage, and you have to disengage them before you even touch the frame. I’m not aware of others that are optional like ours. We like the ease of use; for everyday use, you just pull it out, flip it, use it, put it back. There’s plenty of engagement, as much as any other frame lock out there. But if you really need to wrench on something, you have the option of engaging that secondary lock.”
Blick says Magpul looked at some lesser steels before deciding on S35vn. “It’s essentially the sweet spot for blade steel, right,” he says. We’re fans of S35vn; it’s popular for good reason. It doesn’t have to go to a shop and get professionally sharpened. It may take a little bit more time and effort for the end user to sharpen S35vn, but once that blade is sharp, it’ll hold an edge for a long time.
The project had some dark days, Smith tells us. The design team went through many iterations of the secondary lock. His challenge was figuring out how to put it in this small package without it feeling like a gimmicky little feature.
“Yeah, it was kind of funny. It would function and you’re like, ‘alright it functions. But it doesn’t feel right’ and we were trying to figure out how to make things feel right. I remember sitting at my desk just racking my brain and [Smith] was going back and forth, back and forth, because he would come up to me with a new design and I’d say, ‘well, this doesn’t feel good, you know?’ And he looked at me like I was an idiot because he’s trying to figure out what makes something mechanical feel ‘right.’ So, that went on for a long, long time. I know probably Dan has a few gray hairs from that, but that was definitely a point of friction for sure.”
Smith responds, “Yeah, we thought it was pretty good, then someone felt it and they go, ‘oh this reminds me of a 1911 safety.’”
At this point of the interview, I had to ask, “Was it Jon Canipe [a Magpul employee and notorious 1911 hater] that dropped that particular 1911 bomb on you?”
“I think it actually was,” answered Blick. “And, right when he said it, I was like, ‘oh no, it does… So, we had to change it. We just went back and forth on this thing.”
Blick says his goal was to take something utilitarian and make it elegant in the end, he says the secondary lock lever is almost flawlessly integrated into the knife. “It appears thin; the way it actuates; the way it feels; it’s this reassuring click,” says Blick, “that nitpicking and attention to detail was definitely a good thing because what we have now is absolutely incredible.”
We asked Magpul who’s making the knife? Because if it gets boned up in production, it really doesn’t matter how hard they worked on the design.
“We’re treating this just like any and all of our engineered products,” says Marise. “So, wholly, 100% designed in-house at Magpul and made in the USA. We own every ounce of it, top to bottom.”
It’s hard to judge if Magpul is sticking its toe in the mid-tech knife market with an eye toward growing a blade business, or if this is purely a side project that’s fulfilling a common passion that ends when the Magpul guys that wanted what they see as their holy grail knife all have one in their pocket.
Based on my conversation with Blick, Marise, and Smith, it’s hard to see that passion petering out.
“This project was birthed from a passion for knives. I mean honestly man, and I’m not trying to pull your chain or anything, but it really was something that we wanted to do. And that’s why they’re all individually serialized, they’re made by us. This is our knife.”
Marise added, “We’re sticking with a single product, not to say that some other stuff won’t show up down the line. But, first and foremost, the market will dictate some of that.”
The last question fielded to the group was who’d be getting Rigger serial number 001?
“I can say with absolute certainty,” laughed Marise, “nobody on this call.”
The Rigger is a limited edition, precision-engineered cutting tool constructed of premium materials and featuring signature Magpul form and function. This first-ever Limited Edition Frame Lock was designed completely by Magpul and is rich with features that make it an expression of Magpul’s design ethos and commitment to quality and innovation.
Attention to detail is apparent in every component of the Rigger. A lightweight double-locking titanium frame provides the Rigger with a purposeful agility, and slim, custom-textured scales support an enhanced grip. The modified Wharncliffe blade is forged from Crucible Particle Metallurgy (CPM) S35VN stainless steel, considered to be one of the finest blade steels in the world, and one of the first designed specifically for knife blades. This CPM stainless steel construction provides improved strength and wear resistance which means the blade holds its edge longer than lesser steels, reducing the need for frequent sharpening.
A jimped blade flipper deploys and locks the modified Wharncliffe blade with an audible click. An innovative secondary locking feature (SLF) in the Rigger’s precision-machined frame lock prevents accidental blade closure, even in the harshest of environments and during demanding use. A flick of the thumb disengages the SLF, allowing quick, controlled blade closure, with or without gloves.
Using the traditional Wharncliffe blade shape as inspiration, we designed and engineered features that optimize and enhance the traditional construction. The modified Wharncliffe blade edge has a distinct distal taper and slight belly that enhance ease of sharpening, maintenance, and overall utility. The primary grind / bevel decreases weight while maintaining blade strength and rigidity. The straight dull back curves slightly with an abrupt downward edge near the tip, creating an aggressive point for piercing and detailed work.
The titanium pocket clip features a hollow pocket clip screw for lanyards and can be removed or reversed with a slotted screwdriver for easy disassembly and cleaning. The sleek, modern profile ensures the Rigger rides comfortably in most any pocket. At 7.59 inches open and 4.52 inches closed, it is an ideal size for everyday carry, yet large enough to handle demanding field tasks.
The Rigger comes with a custom high strength, injection-molded, weather-resistant case that’s internally lined with soft foam. Inspired by the PMAG®, the Rigger’s case also features a pen dot matrix for easy identification and marking. When not housing the Rigger, the crush-resistant case serves as a storage box for small tools, ammo, or anything else that will fit.
The Magpul Limited Edition Frame Lock will be offered in a short series of production runs, limited to 200 serial numbered knives per run, making these unique knives highly collectible. Each version will be aesthetically unique, yet all will be undeniably Magpul.
FEATURES AND SPECS
- Blade Design: Modified Wharncliffe with Tapered Dual Bevel Grind
- Secondary Locking Feature
- Blade Material: CPM S35VN
- Titanium Frame: 6Al4V
- Limited Edition: Individually Serialized
- Custom high strength, injection-molded, soft foam lined, weather resistant case.
- Titanium Pocket Clip: 6Al4V
- Lanyard Hole
- Primary Frame Lock
- Jimping along blade spine and flipper for increased grip during use
- Blade Length: 3.4” (from center of pivot)
- Blade Thickness: 11/64”
- Open Length: 7.59”
- Closed Length: 4.52”
- Handle Thickness: 7/16”
- Weight: 4oz
- Mechanism: Manual Opening w/ Flipper
- Flipper Jimping Length: .235”
- Blade Spine Jimping Length: .65”
- Hardware Material: Stainless Steel
- Pocket Clip Position: Reversible Tip-Up
- Bearing Type: Caged Ceramic Bearings